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Making The Concept Of Perfection Useful, Not Harmful

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Excerpted from the book Let Them Play: The Power & Joy of Mindful Sports Parenting. Copyright © 2016 by Jerry Lynch. Printed with permission from New World Library —

In my work, one thing I notice is how many parents want their kids to be perfect, and in turn, their children often strive to fulfill those wishes. When this happens, parents become perennially disappointed, and kids are never satisfied with their own performance.

Over the last forty years, I have worked with many thousands of young athletes between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two, from high school to college, and I can honestly say that half of these kids have suffered from what I call perfection attention, the act of constantly being obsessed with being perfect. Having such a lofty, unattainable goal positions them perfectly for failure. Yet frustratingly, they keep measuring their self-worth as athletes and people by outcomes and results, by winning and losing, by achievements and failures. Parents play a huge role in this malady because they believe, usually unconsciously or unintentionally, that they are better parents if their kids are perfect. Intellectually, a parent may know that perfection is not possible, yet they feel there is no harm in trying. As a result, I often find myself working with kids who are terribly disappointed in themselves, awfully frustrated, and often angry about not measuring up.

I remember one parent who unintentionally held back his love if his kid’s performance was lackluster. The athlete, wanting to be loved, felt the pressure to win, achieve, and be perfect. What I believe the father desired for his child was to experience the joy, fun, and excitement of being the best that we can be at whatever we attempt. But this message became convoluted and obscured as his love for his kid became conditional.

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